09/29/13 Sermon (September 29, 2013) "Simplicity: The Discipline of Enough"

posted Mar 11, 2014, 10:08 AM by David Hawkins

09/29/13 Sermon (September 29, 2013)

"Simplicity: The Discipline of Enough"

Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-19 (Liturgist)

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time-he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Sermon: "Simplicity: The Discipline of Enough"

As most of you know, we are continuing a series on the classical spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith. Last week we talked about the discipline of meditation and prayer, and we took some time to experience an ancient form of contemplative scripture reading called Lectio Divina. I hope that some of you were able to find some time during the week to pursue your own forms of quiet prayer and meditation. If you were able to find a way to separate yourself from the world and find some private time with God, I would love to hear about that.

Next week we will be looking at the discipline of Service, the discipline continuing to give of our time, of our energy, of our love and attention, to a world that seems oblivious at best, and antagonistic at worst to our efforts.

But this week we are looking the discipline of simplicity. The discipline of knowing when enough is enough.

A few months ago, I went to a pastor’s retreat in Amarillo, and our speaker was someone fairly well known to you all, it was Karl Travis, Drew’s brother.

And some of you might know that Karl is pretty famou in Presbyterian circles as being a bit of an expert on the topic of stewardship, and that’s why we asked him to come talk to us at the retreat. We didn’t want a stewardship program, per se, but rather, we were hoping that he might share some of his perspectives on the topic of giving in the church.

And boy, did he ever. It turns out he’s done some work on this subject. A lot of work.

Now, I don’t remember everything that he said, it was a little like drinking from a fire hydrant, but there was one thing that he brought up that really made me think. It’s something that I had never considered before, a way of thinking about stewardship that wasn’t focused on the aspect of giving money to the church, but rather focused on the benefits of changing our attitudes about giving.

Karl suggests that we live in a society that is sick. And, our society is sick because we have come to accept with question that more is better, less is bad. Think of the AT&T commercial that is popular right now, the one with the little kids and the smarmy guy that sits with them, and asks them questions about 4g coverage. Man, I hate that guy. Now, of course, the kids have no earthly idea what 4G coverage is, but they definitely know that more is better. After all, as the tagline goes, it’s not complicated.

It’s so axiomatic that more is better, that we don’t question it. Of course more is better. It’s simply better. And our economy depends on us believing that more is better. The stock market depends on us striving to get more. Bigger houses, better cars, more money. The idea of more is better is an integral part of how we think of ourselves, the way we measure our own value. We lift up the idea of ‘more’ as a virtue, and to question the validity of ‘more is better’ is to question the American dream itself.

The problem is, this obsessive quest for more is killing us. We mistake money for value, we mistake wealth for worth. We spend our money on things we don’t want or need. Our mortgages are upside-down, our credit is hyperextended, we live from crisis to crisis, beyond our means, under water, on a tightwire of debt. And with every purchase, we feed the machine that always wants more.

Let me give you one example of our perverse understanding of value. Now, these aren’t Karl’s statistics, there are mine, so you can blame me if they make us feel uncomfortable.

Let’s start with the important stuff. According to the United Nations, it would take $30 billion a year for ten years to end world hunger. Now, that sounds like a ridiculous amount of money. $30 Billion is an unreachable, unimaginable amount of money. There is no way for us, as a society, as a world, that we could find that kind of money. World hunger is just too big a problem for us to fix.

Except, until you realize that we spent more than $10 Billion dollars on college athletic tickets alone last year, according to ESPN. Or that the National Football League took in more than $9 Billion last year, according to Forbes magazine. Isn’t that amazing? In just American sports dollars, we have already spent more than half of what we would need to end world hunger. If we factor in the NBA and Major League baseball, we have arrived at our goal of $30 Billion dollars. Yet, there is still world hunger. We have placed a higher value on sports than we do on the lives of human beings.

But America is not alone in our sickness. Our European brothers and sisters don’t always know the value of money either.

For instance, the English Premier league took in almost $4 Billion dollars last year. The German Bundesliga came in second with over $2.5 Billion. La Liga from Spain was third, with just under 2.5 Billion. Of course, most of that was just to pay Lionel Messi. Sorry, that was an inside soccer joke.  Are there any soccer fans in the congregation?

Lower on down the list we find Italy and France with just around $2 Billion apiece. And so, if we take just the top five soccer leagues from across the pond, we have over $13 Billion dollars. And if we figure in the money projected for next year’s world cup, we can see that in 2014 we will spend well over $20 Billion dollars in world soccer revenues alone.  

To put it in perspective, all in all, according to the international consulting firm ATKearney, worldwide sports revenue tops $64 Billion a year.

In other words, every year, we spend more on watching sports than it would take to end world hunger twice over. Let me say that again: We spend on sports more money each year than would be required to end world hunger twice over.

There is something very wrong with that.

Now, I’m not trying to bash sports. I’m simply demonstrating the strange, and as Karl might say, diseased sense of priorities we have developed as a society. According to the Trade Journal ArtPrice, in 2010, worldwide revenues for Fine Art topped 9.5 Billion Dollars. According to the Atlantic, Global Music Revenue came in at over 16 Billion. That’s almost enough to beat world hunger right there.

And now for the biggie: According the Internet Movie Database, Global revenue for movies is somewhere around $1.7 Trillion Dollars. 1.7 Trillion dollars. Last year. 1.7 Trillion. Honestly, I cannot conceive of any social problem on earth: from polio, to cancer, to poverty, to hunger, to aids, that could not be eradicated if we spent 1.7 Trillion dollars on it every year. Nothing. Can you? It’s not that the money is unavailable. It’s that we spend it on other things.

Now, Karl Travis could do a much better job than me with the statistics. He could go on and one with facts and figures that point to a society and a world that has completely lost touch with what is important. And it would all be true, and it would all make us feel bad.

But his main point was this: We, as a society, are sick. Our priorities are fundamentally and tragically out of whack, and as Christians, we have allowed ourselves to become sick as well, in order for us to fit in. Our own health has been compromised in order for us to be at home in this culture.

And there are compelling reasons to get sick. Our friends are sick. Our families are sick. Our neighbors are sick. Our bosses, and our co-workers are sick. And in order for us not to be accused of being un-American, or unpatriotic, or un-whatever label gets thrown at people who are countercultural, we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the contagious virus of always needing more. It is easier, and less stressful, in some ways, to just be sick along with everyone else.

But I wonder, if there isn’t something inside each of us that hopes we were created for more a complete, more meaningful life than simply grabbing for the next rung of the ladder.

And I think that we were. And so does the Apostle Paul. And so does Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us over and over that we were created for so much more than just one more lap on the hampster wheel. But in order to find that sense of peace and freedom, we first have to let go of our stuff and embrace the countercultural radicalness of simplicity. The problem is, simplicity is not a simple thing.

Because the outer discipline of living simply does not depend on our actions; not on giving everything away, not on a vow of poverty, but rather it depends on an inner simplicity that can only come from a complete upheaval of the way we think about the things we have, and the way we got them.

As long as we think that we earned our stuff, that we deserve the things we have, that they are ours, that we got it all on our own, then we will never have enough. Because if we genuinely think that it is we who determine our own worth, if we genuinely think that it is up to us to earn our own way, then the idea of ‘enough’ can never fill the hole in our lives that wonders if we can ever be worthy of the love of God.

Because it doesn’t matter how rich we are, we can never buy the assurance that, even in our worst moments, we are still loved. We can never buy the promise of God’s love and forgiveness. These things are gifts, and they are outside our reach, whether you are the disabled vet on the street looking for his next meal, or Donald Trump sitting on his gold-plated toilet. And yet they are given freely, to all of us, without condition.

In other words, simplicity is not about what we do with what we’ve got, it’s how we thank the one from whom we got it.  

In today’s scripture, we find Paul giving all kinds of advice about money and riches. Paul is not shy about telling Timothy how dangerous wealth is, and the temptations it brings. He talks about the distractions of money, the pain it causes. And his advice is simple. Be content with the small stuff. Find pleasure in the small stuff. Don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking that more is better. Because it’s not. If you have more, share it. If you don’t, be grateful for what you do have.

But in Paul’s advice we also see that a life of simplicity is more about the inner workings of our souls, rather than the outer workings of our actions. “Pursue righteousness,” he says. Rather than a life of striving for more, he instructs Timothy to consider, “godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness,” as higher ambitions.

And we’ve heard this language before. Jesu tells us to seek first the kingdom of God. That we can’t store up our treasures to take with us. That where our treasure is, there our heart will be.

All of these sayings point to the same truth, that a life that is counter cultural to the sickness that pervades this world begins with first seeking out and embracing a different kind of world. A world in which we spend more on hunger than we do on sports or abstract art. A world in which we spend more on disease than we do on pop music or action movies. A world in which the first are last, and the last first, and the poor are blessed, and the meek inherit the earth.

This is the world that Jesus calls us to seek first, the world that Paul tells Timothy to pursue. And it is in the pursuit of this world that we find the simplicity that will allow us to let go of stuff we don’t need.

In the next few weeks, we will be beginning our Stewardship drive for the church. As we think, as a church, about the commitments we will make to fulfill the priorities we place on mission and programs, I also invite all of us, as individuals to consider our own sense of mission, and our own commitments to those things that we see as priorities.

And so, as we pray and plan and think and dream about next year, I encourage all of us to consider three small changes in the way we think about our stuff that will set us on the path to better spiritual health:

If what we have is received as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will be able to experience the sort of inner freedom from anxiety that will lead to a life of outer simplicity.

On the other hand, if what we have, we believe we have earned, and if what we have we believe we must protect at all costs, and if what we have is not available to others, then we will inevitably live in the kind of anxiety that makes it impossible to be content with what we have, no matter how much or how little.

There’s an old song that names this sense of ease and peace of living a life of simplicity. I invite you to sing it with me, it’s in your bulletin, Simple Gifts. We won’t need the organ, it’s a simple song.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn 'twill be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

May God be with us all as we re-consider our relationships with our stuff, with each other, and with our God. Amen.